A Second Chance at Paris, Books by Cole, Books by Xen, Cover Art, Crow City, Personal, Shatterproof, The Found

Where I’ve Been: Life, Death, Books, Ghost Stories, and Road Trips with Cats

Wow. So when I said “kick me if you see me on social media before May,” I didn’t anticipate being gone until the end of July/beginning of August. But I’m…back-ish? Yes. Back-ish. I’m at least going to be lurking around a bit more and occasionally randomly showering people on social media with love. But…holy hells, life kind of went a little off the rails these last few months. And because I roll like that, I’m going to break it down in reverse order from the title, because the title reads better that way but explaining this way makes more sense.

In my head, anyway.

This is basically four blog posts in one, categorized for easy topical skimming. Hush and buckle in.

Hi.

GHOST STORIES AND ROAD TRIPS WITH CATS

So if you follow me on Facebook, you may remember a while back I was agonizing over needing to move because state self-employment taxes in my current locale were bloody well killing me. I had wanted Seattle, as many of my lifelong friends are there, but it didn’t seem like a viable option financially considering my lease ended on May 31st and my work life had just gone through a significant slowdown and there just wasn’t enough time to bankroll a cross-country move. I had two options: renew for another six months and save a stable cushion to move, or pick somewhere else without state self-employment tax and move somewhere cheaper.

It turned out neither of those options really happened.

My landlord told me I couldn’t do a six-month lease. It was a year or nothing. I was not staying another year in Murderville, Illinois – also known as Southside Chicago, which is actually home to a very large percentage of lovely people who are disproportionately terrorized and murdered by a very small percentage of extremely violent people. Yes, Chicago. I know some of you guessed already when I was being cagey about where I lived; I had my reasons, mostly involving people whose names belong on a restraining order. Those reasons are now defunct, because for the past couple of months and for the foreseeable future, I am now a happy resident of Seattle, Washington.

Yep. I chose “nothing.” Because my best friend from Seattle, L, happened to be in Chicago right when my lease was up, for on-the-job training. So I haggled for money people owed me, packed up most of my belongings and shipped them cheaply (and quickly) via Amtrak Freight, gave all my furniture to my housekeeper and neighbors, shoved everything else in the back of this little fucking Smurfberry of a rental car, wrestled (and I do mean wrestled – the contortions Beni did to keep from getting in) Mercutio and Benvolio into a little custom luxury cage, and hit the road. L and I drove over 2,000 miles in three days. And on this trip, I learned:

  • Beni will shamelessly snatch my goddamn braids if he’s pissed over being in the cage too long. Little fucker reached through the bars, stretched past the seat headrest, claw-punched me right in the goddamned skull, then yanked my tail until my head slammed back against the seat.
  • You do not know the face of death until you’ve experienced a litterbox bomb not two feet from your head in a packed, enclosed compact car.
  • Hotel stops must be scheduled around when the yowling starts, or there will be hell to pay.
  • Illinois makes it very expensive to leave the state. The number of fucking tolls we went through was ridiculous.
  • Altitude edema is a thing, and I-90 through Montana ranges about 3,000-6,000 feet above sea level for very long stretches. My legs went from skinny chicken to giant redwood over the course of a few hours, and stayed that way for a week.
  • There is not a single person darker than mayonnaise from the western Wisconsin border to the eastern Washington state line.
  • The sky in Wyoming is very big. For the first time in my life I saw the full curvature of the sky, stretching from horizon to horizon, and it was lovely. The sunsets were ethereal, the clouds strange and otherworldly and lit from within with ruby sunfire.
  • I am very frightening to people in Montana. So frightening they can’t decide if they want to shy away from me, staring in shock…or follow me around grocery stores and gas stations waiting for me to steal something. I have never seen L so pissed and ready to shank someone, with how people were reacting to me no matter how pleasant, polite, and harmless I was. While I love my friend for being so protective, there were a few moments where I had to drag L out bodily to prevent that powder keg from going off. Then again, I also had to bodily remove L from a Wal-Mart in Chicago just for the sheer fact that impulse control was becoming a problem in wondering if we’d be arrested or just kicked out if L deliberately knocked over the thirty-foot display stack of toilet paper rolls.
  • Okay. So there was a lot of bodily removing L from trouble, period.
  • Then again, L had to practically physically stop me from setting fire to the art installation teepees at every rest stop in South Dakota, because FUCK YOU, that’s why. Unless those art installations were designed and built by an actual Native person, fuck you. (Someone please tell me they were. Or my next road trip will involve charges for vandalism and destroying public property.)
  • Don’t ever stay at a small-town Comfort Inn. Not unless you want a clusterfuck that results in having to dispute nearly $300 in fraudulent credit card charges.
  • Panera has a surprising range of options for accommodating L’s food allergies.
  • WHAT THE FUCK IS WALL DRUG
  • Someone actually paid for religious shaming billboards. Little mini-things posted along the roadside with hand-painted bibles on them, with grim messages such as “The wages of sin is death” and one other one I can’t remember but basically amounted to “FORNICATORS MUST DIE.” And then there was the giant accusatory abortion guilt billboard. Amazingly, though, not one Trump billboard. Plenty of “OBAMA SUCKS” bumper stickers, though.
  • I’ve never seen low carpeting mist roll in across the land and through creepy spindly trees before; it’s always been firmly slotted in my head as a horror movie effect. But we saw it while driving through Wisconsin at twilight, thick fingers of it reaching for and obscuring the road, and jesus fuck that shite is terrifying when you’re the only car on a suddenly deserted highway.
  • L sings. All the fucking time. ALL THE FUCKING TIME. L sings conversations. L even sings when angry! I do not know how I came to call someone this fucking perky my best friend, but bloody goddamned hell, I felt like the hero in Enchanted. At least I was saved from the threat of the Wicked soundtrack for the whole 2,000 miles when it turned out the rental didn’t have a CD player.
  • In South Dakota they don’t teach you to flush public toilets, but they do teach you the alphabet, as evidenced by the giant “KKK” scratched on the toilet seat of the men’s in a Dairy Queen. Look at you; don’t you spell like a big boy? Yes you do. Yes, you do.
  • In Montana, if you walk into a Starbuck’s while brown in a town with no less than six “OBAMA SUCKS” bumper stickers in a three-block radius, everyone will stop and stare at you. The blonde woman in line in front of you will jump away like you just goosed her when she glances back and sees you, even though there’s five feet between you and her, you’ve made not even the slightest indication that you might touch her or even acknowledge her, and you’re looking at the menu and not even aware she exists. When her violent reaction causes you to jerk in surprise and flinch back while blinking in confusion, she will scurry to put more space between you. The elderly cashier who was all smiles for her will become graven stone for you, speak in clipped tones, and rudely dismiss or talk over your polite greetings and questions (I’m sorry, dude, I can’t tell at a glance who has active chip readers and who doesn’t, some businesses have them installed but don’t use them and either way I hates them, precioussss). While you and the blonde woman both wait for your orders, she will stare at you constantly with a look of sneering horror while you pointedly mind your own business, sit as far away from her as possible, stare anywhere else, and try not to visibly display how increasingly uncomfortable you are. She will also start skip-running with nervous little glances when you leave moments after her and it turns out your cars are parked side-by-side, only to make a disgusted sound and stare at you when she realizes you’re going to your car, not following her. No, lady. No. I’m aware that inherently it is possible for any man to be a threat and you can’t know who is or isn’t safe, so you need to protect yourself. But in a daylit, well-trafficked public place where I’m not even engaging with you in any way and I’m doing my best to ignore your existence and keep my distance and protect myself by leaving as quickly as possible and avoiding conflict and/or confrontation? No. Just…no. I promise my brownness does not make it dangerous to be in a large, busy, well-lit cafe at the same time as me. I promise I’m not going to assault you with my froofy, sugar-filled, whipped-cream-frothing iced pseudo-coffee drink. I’m also not certain why you seemed convinced that out of all the people in that Starbuck’s, both male and female, I must have singled you out, unless it’s by the sheer coincidence that you were the person in line ahead of me when I came in, and the general social mechanics of queues mandate that I stand somewhere behind you in an orderly fashion and wait my turn within our respective bubbles of personal space – where I can promise you my issues with physical contact make my bubble of inviolable personal space much larger than the one engendered by your issues with breathing near a brown person.
  • In Montana, you will also see a great number of strange collections of shanty houses on the sides of the roads, vaguely imitating a town and yet hauntingly empty. They are brightly colored, and if you pull off the road with the intention of stopping at a convenience store or gas station, you will see not a living soul and yet feel a great sense of being watched, possibly through the eyes of a garishly painted rubber mask hiding something that could never have been called a face. Do not get out of your vehicle. Drive on. Slowly, so the noise does not draw them. Softly. Softly. Do not wake the quiet ones.
  • Driving through green hills in the dead of night, dotted with the red lights of dormant wind turbines, will lull you into a strange state in which you are entirely certain you’ve slipped through a dimensional rift and fallen into some strange Lovecraftian world where those lights are the lidless eyes of drowsing, dreamless gods, their slow-breathing shoulders humping in black silhouettes against a starless sky, the trees naught but strange follicles bristling from their hoary hides.
  • If you stare at the moving wind turbines long enough, their blades become the pointed and aerodynamic legs of disembodied android women joined at a single tapering waist, spread on uncanny display, forming and breaking pairs over and over again with each turn and asking, as you stare between their gaping, rotating thighs, why their chests and hearts and heads and brains have been cut away to meld them into this nightmare of metal and purposeless voyeurism without autonomy or will.
  • Have I mentioned that hours and hours of monotonous highway will take my brain to some completely fucked places?
  • Seriously, fuck Montana.

The highlight of the trip came at the very end, though. It was a working trip for me; I just took work with me and tapped away on my laptop when it was L’s turn to drive. On the home stretch, just over the Washington border, I had to do a client call at midnight. (He was in France, so it was actually a reasonable hour for him.) So we pulled off onto a little exit to do the call so my signal wouldn’t be cutting in and out as we moved. We parked. Cut the engine and headlights. Everything went pitch black. No highway lights, not even reflectors. No other cars. Just dead, smothering blackness, the moon vanished behind the accusing spears of the treetops, the sky lightless and cold, the silence thick with something trembling that felt like unvoiced screams. We stared at each other in the dark, nothing visible but a faint reflection off the whites of our eyes, the whisper-glow of the dash, and the otherworldly blue light coming from my laptop charger’s power indicator.

“I…I’m going to turn the headlights back on, okay?” L said in a small voice, and I swallowed.

“Okay.”

L switched the headlights on.

Directly in front of us, facing us on the opposite side of the little feeder road, was an empty car that had not been there before. We’d heard nothing. Seen no headlights. But there it was, dull silver and skewed off onto the shoulder. The driver’s side door was open. On our side of the road, off in the grass right before the tree line, was…something. Someone. Tall enough to be a man, but strangely blocky; vaguely humanoid in shape, but somehow wrong. I caught something that looked like plaid flannel and maybe a cap and dark, enormous, reflective spaces that I tell myself had to be sunglasses, but it was mostly a white, tattered mass that I couldn’t quite focus on in the flashing dark. Later the only thing L and I would agree on clearly was that it looked like someone or something wrapped in bandages. It moved toward us. We stared for half a second…and then got the fuck out of there, flooring the gas and tearing out, gasping “What the fuck? What the fuck. Oh my god, what the fuck.”

Only we weren’t out of the woods yet – literally. We couldn’t get back onto I-90. We had to follow this little feeder road deeper into the trees. This feeder road with no lights, no reflectors, no road signs except a single one-way marker; just dense forest and pitch blackness and, as we drove onward, so many empty cars. Just…cars, parked on the side of the road, deserted, appearing within the circle of our headlights and then disappearing as the light swept past. No signs of people. Other drivers. Other roads. Houses. Nothing. And though it was a one-way road, we were seriously considering doing a U-turn and going back the wrong way, because this was not okay. Once, we saw faint flickering lights like torchlight through the trees, orange against a backdrop of dusty moonlight. Then it was just the dark again, and us, and the silence.

After a few minutes the feeder road looped back around and became an on-ramp. By the time we made it back to I-90 my palms were cold, my skin prickling. L’s eyes were wide enough to see the whites all around. We didn’t talk for half an hour, because we just wanted to put as many miles between us and that as possible…and honestly, we didn’t know what to say. Like saying it would make it real; like saying it would reveal one of us was seeing things, while the other saw nothing at all. And when we finally did talk about it, neither of us were sure what we experienced. Just…bandages, and a sense of powerful, creeping dread.

Bandages.

Two months later, all I have to say is “bandage man” and L just goes “NO. NOPE. NO THANK YOU” and walks away.

Fucking Slenderman level shite.

Here. Have some lovely photos I took while hiking through Lincoln Park and along Puget Sound a few weeks ago, to dispel that fucking bad juju.

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So. Um. That was my trip. Beyond that, I love Seattle. I’m renting a lovely apartment very close to Lake Washington, with stunning views of the lake; the apartment has a private entrance, gorgeous French doors, enormous picture windows, a private patio opening onto a lushly greened backyard, and forest all around. I also only share the building with one other person, as it’s actually a house that’s been converted to apartments; she has the upstairs unit, I have down, and we meet in the middle now and then over mail or just dropping in to say hi. It’s the autonomy and privacy of independent living combined with the security and comfort (for both of us) of having someone else in the building if we need them. Her name’s A, by the way. A is pretty amazing; she may also be a 12-year-old boy masquerading as a 47-year-old woman, considering the spate of giggles when I said “I don’t think 86 inches is enough” when working out curtain rods and the outright howling when we were discussing an aversion to the texture of peaches and I said, completely unthinkingly, “I don’t like to lick fur.” (Don’t tell my last girlfriend that.) There’s also D, a pretty chill guy whom A is subletting a spare room to in the short term; although he’s hardly ever actually around, he’s pretty nifty. Most people in Seattle have been pretty nifty, and I think I’ll love it here – not the least because I’m close to my friends now, although sometimes getting N out of Enumclaw is like pulling teeth and it disturbs me just how much B’s van always smells like fresh gasoline and I’m pretty sure we’re gonna die in it, though I’ll take a fiery gasoline combustion over her nagging me about trying to meet someone yet again. (My housekeeper does too. And you have not been nagged about your love life until you’ve been nagged by a Filipina mom.)

And I must be out of my mind, getting up every morning at 5am to go running with L.

We’re totally chasing pokemon on our usual jogging trail, by the way.

And L refuses to leave each morning without a hug. So much touching. Ugh.

No photos of the apartment yet, because I’m repainting it next month. Right now it’s this disturbing creamy golden shade somewhere between pastel mustard and goldenrod baby diarrhea, and that’s got to go. I’ll share when it’s a better color, and properly decorated, and all my boxes are unpacked; I’m really looking forward to getting my patio set up with a fire pit and wind chimes and patio furniture, if I can ever find a set that doesn’t cost more than the downpayment on a small house. Seriously, why is even ugly, barely-functional patio furniture so expensive?

I also don’t have any photos of the cats giving us the Eye of Sauron from the back of the car, because L is a master at Vehicle Tetris and they kind of got boxed in…so have a photo of them settled in happily and dozing, instead.

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BOOKS

So…you may have noticed in my little sneak time on Twitter that there’s been stuff going on with my bookishness. Like my new pen name, Xen Sanders. No, it’s not my real name. Yes, it’s very close. Yes, I’m still writing as Cole McCade. No, it’s not a cishet vs. LGBTQIA split; it’s more a contemporary vs. SFF/horror split for clear genre differentiation. Yes, it’s why I changed my screen names and website domain (with all the old content ported over, plus shiny new things like a selection from my art portfolio and a single page consolidating the stuff you can read for free). There’s more info and explanations in the FAQ here, to keep this long-arse post from getting any longer.

Shatterproof_600x900But if you missed it…in September, my first LGBTQIA paranormal novel as Xen Sanders, SHATTERPROOF, is releasing from the lovely Riptide Publishing. You can add it to GoodReads here, if you’re into things like, you know, M/M and vodou and fae and bisexual black heroes dealing with mental illness while falling in love with damaged prettyboys; you can also preorder from the Riptide website, and read an excerpt online. I, for one, am in love with my fucking cover. You see so many POC books, even from major New York publishers, get carelessly done, shite covers…and then Riptide goes and puts all this amazing work into producing a gorgeous, striking, compelling professional cover that took my breath away the moment I saw it. I also really loved writing this book, not in the least because I’m a sadistic arsehole who enjoys making his beta readers cry.

TheFound6x9I’ve also signed another contract with Riptide for UNRAVEL, another paranormal standalone set in the same universe as SHATTERPROOF. So things are looking pretty busy, book-wise; for the next 6-8 months, really, I’m kind of packed with releases. While I was away I did a lot of hardcore writing. I finished THE FOUND (Crow City #2), Willow and Priest’s story; that’s coming in a couple of weeks, but you can add it to Goodreads here. I wrote 8-9 short stories, many of which will be creeping into a collection I’m working on for a fun pet project. I have two Entangled Publishing releases between now and early 2017, one as Cole McCade, one as Xen Sanders; I’m about halfway done with THE SAVED (Priest’s POV novella in the same theme as THE FALLEN), and have made significant inroads on THE GIRL WITH THE STARS ON HER SKIN; I’ve started WAKING and UNTIL I FIND YOU (neither of which I’m ready to talk about yet); I’m also considering self-publishing SUBHUMAN, my enormous epic-length behemoth of a sci-horror and one of my babies that I’ve been working on for years; we’ll see. I may also look into this whole, you know, literary agent thing. When I have something worth submitting, anyway, that isn’t already slated for a publisher or something else.

And…I discovered that if I write in 15-minute sprints alternating around work and other things, I can churn out some 10,000-15,000 words a day.

The problem is…generally about 60% of it is shite.

Pure shite.

But that’s still a nice chunk I get to keep without deleting in a mad frenzy of “omg wtf is this what was I thinking,” and it makes for writing at a decent clip without feeling like I’m sucking the fun out of something I love by dragging myself through it for hours on end. That was kind of how I wrote THE FOUND; sprinting through 10k at a time, going back and cutting the 6k of it that was shite, filling in the blanks with something better, then doing another sprint, rinse and repeat.

So. Taking a break from social media was good for me, to get back to reading and writing and just…living in the words. I’m hoping for nothing but good things from here on out. I’m really excited about all the stuff I have coming out after this, as well as a couple of joint projects I’m working on with friends.

DEATH

I was less excited when my father died this past April.

And by less excited I mean completely fucked up.

I…do not deal with death well. I don’t encounter it very often, honestly. People in my family are ridiculously long-lived. That and I’m hugely estranged from most of my family, so I…don’t even know most of them. Like, ask me their names and I just don’t even know, so if/when they die I usually don’t hear about it and it has little impact other than general human loss because I never even knew they lived. I have siblings I’ve never met and am technically not supposed to know about. Yeah. It’s weird. I vaguely remember my great-grandmother dying at age 109, while I was barely a sproglet – much too young to really understand what was going on or feel the impact of it. An uncle died not much later, and though I remember him fondly that kind of got folded into the childhood murk of my great-grandmother. And then a few years ago, my grandmother died and my whole world fell apart; it was the first personal death I’d experienced in my adult life and may even have been a contributing factor in ending my marriage, because grief (among other things) pushed me to a break point that helped erode away at my ex’s abusive hold on me. There is a very small group of people in my family that I have tried so fucking hard to stay in contact with; whom I love more than reason; who define family for me, no matter how broken and abusive the rest of my family is. My grandmother was one of those people.

My dad was one of the others.

And to be honest, I still haven’t come to grips with it. In some ways I lost him a short forever ago; as his Alzheimer’s got worse he forgot me, forgot a lot of people who love him…and my stepmother began to isolate him more and more. He’s the reason I wrote Celeste’s father in A SECOND CHANCE AT PARIS: to have what I could never have with my father, living vicariously through the book. He wasn’t perfect. A lot of times he wasn’t even really there. We had a lot of unresolved issues. But there was part of me that hoped that one day…one day

Now that day will never come.

And I will never, ever know why.

Because no one told me he was dead until well after the fact.

I found out on May 1st because my mother, whom I usually refuse to answer the phone for, left me an urgent message asking if my stepmother had contacted me. My stepmother doesn’t even know my phone number anymore, and she changed all of theirs, including my little brother’s cell, so no one could contact them. No one even knows where they’ve been living, other than somewhere secluded near my hometown. But I was worried, so I called my mother back. Over the course of the call my mother prodded and goaded me with hints and insinuations until I finally broke down and, while on the phone with her, googled my father’s name plus “obituary.”

And that’s how I found out he’d been dead for eight days, buried for four. A google search, and a fucking online obituary. I don’t know how he died. Why he died. I don’t know what’s happened to that part of my family. I wasn’t even listed as his son in the obituary. I don’t know what happened to his will or his belongings, though I can hope the will included provisions for my little brother’s college education. My mother’s cold, shrugging comments about “well, that sucks for you” and the usual callousness that fuels the hate machine of her life didn’t really help the shock of the moment. Since then I’ve dug, I’ve poked, I’ve prodded, but without a trip to New Orleans I doubt I’m going to get any real answers as to cause of death or the general state of his last days. He’s just…gone, and swept under the rug like something that shouldn’t be seen in polite company, something that needs to be thrown out.

Worse, I had to call my grandparents and tell them they outlived yet another of their children. One son committed suicide well before I was born. One died in an accident. And now Dad…and that’s it. They’ve buried all of their children, except they didn’t even get to bury him because they had to find out after the fact just like I did.

I sort of went through the five stages. I know I sure as hell went through a fuckton of anger. My friends helped – listening, offering support, giving me permission to feel all the awful things I was feeling when I always beat myself up for giving in to my emotions or not being able to repress them. I went through a weird fixative grief-anxiety phase where I couldn’t stand to eat anything that couldn’t be classified as some kind of sandwich. I blamed myself for not finding a way to get to him when, weeks before his death, I started worrying about him, as if by following up on that intuition I’d have been able to save his life when logically, I know it doesn’t work that way. I went through a lot of shite, but I’m not one hundred percent sure I’ve really dealt with it. No, I know I haven’t.

I haven’t been able to cry for my father.

It’ll start, and then something…some fucked up part of me, some part of my damage, chokes it back and buries it under all the goddamned emotional repression that makes up my life. I couldn’t even cry when I was sorting through old stuff while packing and, over the course of a few hours, came across a birthday card from my dead grandmother, a watch my father had given me, and a condolence card from the vet who cremated Tybalt. That triple combo fucking wrecked me, but still…no fucking tears.

I cried over my fucking cat. I don’t know why I can’t get it out for my father.

I loved him. I love him; his memory isn’t dead. He deserves my tears, and I can’t fucking get them out. My eyes are burning writing this, but I know it won’t happen. And I’m just going to get angry with myself trying, so…moving on.

LIFE

So that’s me. I moved, I wrote books, I sold books, my dad died. I started doing CPRW and executive career coaching work full-time; I used to do that a long time ago when I was first starting off as a professional writer, and it’s high-paying work that I could take with me from Chicago to Seattle with no break in income or need to look for a job – though pretty soon I might just break away from the company I’m contracting for and start my own independent business. But for right now, between all the upheaval and rapid change plus a two-hour time zone shift, I’m still trying to get settled in and find my equilibrium until I feel real again, instead of displaced and trying to find my niche.

And speaking of my niche…well…there’s the whole thing with social media, and why I left in the first place. I’ve been back longer than I let on. Watching. Watching people kill each other; watching people hate each other; watching people be shitty; watching people fight back by being wonderful. Watching as many people spread the good message as there were people spreading hateful ones. Watching the world come crumbling down, and watching so many beautiful, brave humans try to lift the broken pieces up on shoulders trembling with the strength of their power.

I just haven’t said anything, because anything I would have to say would be trivial in the enormity of it all. I silently held my love for people’s bravery, and remained wordless in my respect for the dead.

I don’t want to be silent anymore. But I don’t want to let this consume me the way it did before, either, especially when so much of what was consuming me was not just global and political, but personal and interpersonal.

So where does that leave me? I’m not really sure. I’ll likely start edging onto social media daily again, just to peek and see what people are doing, but I’m not sure about being as present as I was before, or as involved in social politics. I may listen, learn, but not speak as often; speaking and feeling as if I wasn’t being heard, plus seeing so many minority voices drowned out by privileged voices speaking and being lauded as if they’re authorities on minority matters, was part of what was fueling my frustration. Plus…I’m realizing that I think I will always be awkward with people. I know a lot of you don’t think of me as awkward, but you don’t know what’s going on in the brain meats with me; you don’t see the part of my brain that views every conversation as me bothering/imposing myself on the other person, or how almost every interaction is an exercise in not fucking it up while trying to like everyone and realizing that’s not possible. You can’t like everyone, and you can’t beat yourself up for not liking everyone. The most you can do is try to be kind to people whether you like them or not, and remember that when you try to be everyone’s friend, all you end up doing is stretching yourself thin and stomping all over your own boundaries.

I can do kindness. But there’s also a difference between being generally kind and forcing myself to be social even when I’m out of spoons because I feel like I have to for some bizarre reason, when there’s really no reason at all and my authorial career will not end if I’m off Twitter for a few days here and there. (Twitter, I’m looking at you and your engagement metrics. Stop that. Stop playing off my fascination with numbers and trends.)

While taking time off to distance myself, I also realized that sometimes you just…can’t escape identity issues in friendships. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that, too; about how so many of my online relationships are either incredibly, overwhelmingly positive or incredibly, overwhelmingly toxic, and how much of that has informed my social media exhaustion and the corresponding anxiety and depression when constantly pulled between the two extremes. I’ve been trying to have self-awareness about my own role in that, as shite doesn’t happen in a vacuum and Occam’s Razor points to a single common denominator. But I’m also looking at other contributing factors, especially when trying to flail my way through a queer community where I often feel like the Other – tokenized, mostly unwanted save for as representation by grudgingly obligatory invitation, alone, treading where I don’t belong, even a problem for some because they feel they shouldn’t have to worry about others’ marginalizations or inclusiveness in what they consider a queer safe space (you know, kind of like people who think it’s okay to make misogynistic jokes when only in the company of men, or racist jokes when only in the company of white people – because in their ideal safe space they don’t have to care if their privilege is problematic, deal with the inconvenience of of others’ humanity, or recognize the underlying privilege and bias inherent in dismissing lack of inclusiveness as something they shouldn’t have to care about; these are the people for whom social awareness and respect aren’t natural and human, but a burden they wish they didn’t have to carry while at the same time wanting brownie points for how good they are at it while avoiding any self-awareness at all about the bias inherent in who they surround themselves with).

flamesonthesideofmyfaceI often feel as if people both covet my approval for being woke, but at the same time dismiss my personhood when it comes to the potential to form friendships and relationships that have nothing to do with giving them brownie points. It’s this strange, frustrating, entirely maddening experience (flames, FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE), a shifting balance where I’m both greater and lesser but either way, never really a fully-realized person to them; just a notch on a tally, or some strange kind of competition for…I don’t even know what. Validation? Culture? I don’t know. Though this blog post, “On Racism and Competitiveness in Queer Spaces,” was lovely and insightful and gave me a lot to think about when it comes to certain dynamics I’ve run into on multiple occasions, and eventually extracted myself from; it’s a familiar experience that’s almost as common for men as it is for women, and often happens in mixed-gender groups as well. It didn’t really give me any solutions, but it did give me something to relate to regarding a few of my recent experiences with friendships. So that’s something.

Actually, it’s a lot. When others’ experiences give you grounding to stop blaming yourself for other people’s shite behavior, it makes a big difference. And that’s kind of a bad pattern of mine. Someone does something hurtful or cruel or privileged, I say “this is not okay,” and then I immediately fall into blaming myself for it – for being bothered, for saying anything about it, for being difficult enough to ask for human consideration and decency. I let them blame me, too, and often accept their justifications and how they punch down and trivialize and railroad and gaslight and rationalize and dismiss to maintain their privilege, just so I don’t rock the boat again when that voice in my head is already saying wrong, bad, you’re not allowed, you crossed a line and used up your allotment of humanity just for speaking up – plus the other voice that says every time you tell someone in a position of power or influence in publishing “ouch, this hurts, that’s not okay” you’re sinking your career a little deeper into the muck. Sometimes I’ll take anything to break that self-blame cycle; it helps. I’ve got more than enough people punching down in my direction; I don’t need to keep punching myself, too.

dumpsterfireI’ve also realized I have a bizarre talent for bringing out people’s inner shitemonster. Like, whatever they’ve been sitting on comes out around me, the perfect public face disappearing to leave this repressed, festering mess of everything from an obsessive stalker mentality to overwhelmingly self-satisfied privilege to outright racism, and the gamut in between – with increasingly erratic and at times explosive behavior that leaves me feeling like I just got hit in a drive-by when things go crashing sideways and plowing right into a burning, smoldering landfill, possibly ignited by the aforementioned flames on the side of my face. Somehow simply by existing in a conjoined space with them I just…amplify what may have been only tendencies before, and I’m not sure how.

That’s really not a talent I’d like to be remembered for, and it’s made me increasingly cagey about how I interact with new people and how far I’ll let that interaction go.

But it’s also made me cognizant of a need to just…let go. I have trouble doing that, when people are awful and I know it’s not wise to confront them on it but there’s that part of my brain that just agonizes over leaving that hanging out in the ether. My brain will replay so many things I wish I could say to them; things I feel like I should say to them, even if I doubt it’ll change anything and will just open me up to more stress and conflict and the delightful and always real chance that I’ll be the bad guy for saying “Hey, your privilege and assumptions are not just incorrect, but actively causing harm.” Woo fucking hoo anxiety disorder. And I’m just…too tired to put myself in that situation. So rather than choosing between my brain gnawing at me with things unsaid or other people gnawing at me with things very much said, I’m learning to take another route and just…let it go. (DON’T YOU DARE START SINGING THAT SONG.) Whether it’s letting go of the situation, or letting go of the damaging person. It’s not my job to wake them up, especially if they’re convinced they’re already woke, and I can’t take that on myself at the cost of my own emotional well-being and energy. If my pride has to take a blow or two knowing those people are incapable of seeing me without the filter of their privilege…so be it. I have too much to do to devote this much of my brainspace to people who can’t get out from under themselves.

IN CONCLUSION

Back on track…what much of this boils down to is that I’ve been hurting wishing I had somewhere to belong, but distance has made me content with knowing how to just be. I’m fucking fabulous, babies. Y’all ain’t gotta be just like me for me to know that. And honestly, fuck “community.” Community has too much potential to turn into cliques, and then the exclusionary behavior starts all over again with who’s in, who’s out, who’s one of us, who’s one of them. I’m not here for that. I’m here to write books. But more than that, I’m here for people. Individual people with deeply personal loves and hates and needs and pains, with unique passions and intersectionalities and paths and voices – which every last one of you just so happens to be.

So. Hey. I’m here for you, babies.

*laughs* And I don’t really know where I’m going with that. Having time to think and step back has given me my energy back, has refreshed me, but it hasn’t given me solutions. Maybe because there aren’t any solutions. Maybe because it’s just a matter of taking it day by day, and not trying to carry other people’s emotional baggage on top of my own. Just respect their boundaries, ask to have mine respected, avoid people who can’t manage something that basic, and take things as they come. You do you, I do me, and let’s try not to be shite to each other in the process. And, as always:

Don’t start none, won’t be none.

I think that’s going to be my best path forward. That, and keeping my distance from certain people, so I don’t end up stuck like this 24/7 again:


Unless I run into those people while running around playing Pokemon GO. Fuck distance, let’s go trounce my local gym because fuck you Team Valor that gym belongs to Team Mystic.**

Fucking Pokemon GO.

Fucking Wigglytuff using up my goddamned Great Balls.***

Dammit.

 

**I am aware of the irony of saying I’m not here for community “us vs. them” shite and then immediately stanning for my P-GO team right after. Hush it.

***Not one word out ya mouf about Great Balls. Not. One.

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